Your Choice of Food Determines Their Nutrients Received
Perhaps the best advice to breastfeeding mothers is two-fold: stay hydrated, and eat plenty of healthy fats and proteins. Breastfeeding actually places mothers in a more susceptible physiological position to get dehydrated, so drinking more fluids is crucial. The breast milk is the nutrient base for the growing infant, which means that what mom is eating, so is the baby, just like in pregnancy.
The breast milk changes from colostrum, which is produced during the first week after birth, and contains less fat, and a higher amount of protein along with essential immune factors to mature milk, which is produced after the third week, or so, and varies greatly between individuals. To ensure breast milk continues to contain the fats, proteins, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals baby needs, as well as the immune factors, it’s essential for breastfeeding mothers to be eating a balanced and healthy diet.
Here are some foods that have been recommended over the years, as well as some galactagogues, which are used to promote milk production:
- Water – Since breastfeeding mothers are more susceptible to dehydration, drinking more water is crucial. If you’re dehydrated, milk production will be diminished.
- Fish – Now, this may be a bit of a controversy, because of the contamination factors with many seafood sources. However, fish are an amazing source of omega-3 fatty acids as well as vitamins, minerals and protein. The recommendation is still to eat fish in moderation during breastfeeding months. If fish isn’t in your comfort zone anymore (understandably so), consider supplementing with a quality omega-3 product.
- Eggs – Free Range eggs (farm raised) are actually an excellent source of DHA as well (Omega-3), and are an excellent source of protein and fat, as well as many other vitamins and minerals. The yolk is the best part! Other sources of Omega-3 fatty acids: Hemp seeds, flax seeds (ground), borage oil, evening primrose oil.
- Veggies and leafy greens – There’s no substitute for a healthy diet. Vegetables, especially leafy greens, are high in calcium, and other minerals such as folic acid, which is important not only in pregnancy, but during breastfeeding months as well.
- Oatmeal – Oatmeal has been championed as a food that helps increase milk supply. It’s an incredibly easy food to incorporate into the diet, as a hot cereal, granola, or baked snacks. It’s full of fiber, complex carbohydrates, as well as many vitamins and minerals.
- Garlic – Garlic also increases milk supply, and has been used for centuries by nursing mothers. If you don’t like the taste (aftertaste), there are garlic pills available at any health-food store.
- Herbal Galactagogues – There are many herbs that have been used traditionally for increasing milk production, here is a list of the more common ones; many of these herbs are included in various tea blends.
- Fenugreek – One of the classic and strongest herbs for increasing lactation. This herb has been used by mothers of adopted babies to initiate a milk supply. It must be used continuously, or milk supply may decrease, and should NOT be used during pregnancy, as it can stimulate the uterus.
- Shatavari – This is an Ayurvedic herb that has been used for centuries. It helps increase all vital fluids of the body. It is used for a reproductive tonic for both men and women. It should also NOT be used during pregnancy.
- Fennel – Probably the most well known of the lactation herbs, fennel is a very easy herb to incorporate into the diet – like garlic. It also helps relieve gas and bloating, and is often a main ingredient for nursing teas.
- Red Raspberry Leaf – Also a main ingredient in many nursing teas, red raspberry not only helps with lactation, but also helps the uterus recover from birth. It is a highly regarded uterine tonic.
- Vitex – This is an interesting herb. It is a prolactin-inhibitor, though has been used traditionally, and has been studied to actually increase breast milk. It is used often for regulating female hormones, and could be a very helpful addition to a breastfeeding mother who is having hormonal imbalance symptoms.
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Node Smith, ND, is a naturopathic physician in Portland, OR and associate editor for NDNR. He has been instrumental in maintaining a firm connection to the philosophy and heritage of naturopathic medicine among the next generation of docs. He helped found the first multi-generational experiential retreat, which brings elders, alumni, and students together for a weekend camp-out where naturopathic medicine and medical philosophy are experienced in nature. Four years ago he helped found the non-profit, Association for Naturopathic ReVitalization (ANR), for which he serves as the board chairman. ANR has a mission to inspire health practitioners to embody the naturopathic principles through experiential education. Node also has a firm belief that the next era of naturopathic medicine will see a resurgence of in-patient facilities which use fasting, earthing, hydrotherapy and homeopathy to bring people back from chronic diseases of modern living; he is involved in numerous conversations and projects to bring about this vision.